Paul summed up the Gospel like this:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”(1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
As you can see, Paul thinks that at the core of the Gospel lies Jesus’ death for our sins, His burial and His resurrection. And among these three, the resurrection receives most attention. He lines up everyone he knows of that has seen the resurrected Jesus, including himself. Then he goes on discussing the resurrection in the rest of the chapter.
Likewise, Paul, Peter and others who preach the Gospel in the book of Acts often emphasize the resurrection even more than they emphasize the cross. This used to confuse me, since the atonement happened on the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus died for our sins and defeated the devil – the cross is at the core of all atonement theories. The resurrection is great of course, Jesus is alive hallelujah, but shouldn’t the death of Jesus be the focus of the apostles rather than His resurrection?
Of course not. Anyone can claim to die for humanity’s sins and jump down a cliff. But few manage to come back to life. Jesus’ victory over sin, death and satan is confirmed in His resurrection. And the reason the apostles emphasized this, giving details about people who were its eyewitnesses, is that for them the resurrection was not only a doctrine but an experience. The miracle of the resurrection proves that Jesus preached is true, it is when we see that he is alive as we know that he died for us .
I think the reason I did not understand the significance of the resurrection was that I still didn’t have so much charismatic experience (remember, I used to be Lutheran once). Although I always thought that God can do miracles, it is only recently that I realized that miracles are so central in Christianity that if you take away the supernatural, there is absolutely nothing left.
This is what makes the Resurrection so central; the fact that Jesus is alive, even though he died, is Christianity’s fundamental miracle. Paul writes:
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.” (1 Cor. 15:12-15)
Christianity is about eternal life (John 3:16 ) so if you cut away the resurrection, you have simply made all of Christianity totally meaningless. And the resurrection from the dead is obviously a miracle. The foundation of the Christian faith, then, is a miracle. A miracle is nothing else than God speaking or acting, and it is because of His words and actions that we view the Bible as sacred, that we pray, that we baptize, celebrate the Eucharist and lead people to faith in Jesus. Paul continues to explain why the denial of the resurrection from the dead (I wonder what he would say about the denial of all miracles!) undermine the faith:
“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:16-20)
Again, these kinds of Bible passages used to confuse me since I thought that it was when you remove the cross from Christianity as the faith is futile and we are still in our sins. But Paul argues that it is the resurrection that has this role, since it is because God raised Jesus that we know that His message was true. Jesus was not just talking about eternal life, He demonstrated it. He is the “firstfruit” of those that arise from the dead, he showed that when he said that those who follow him will have eternal life, he knew what he was talking about.
Paul himself came to believe in Jesus because he met him as resurrected (Acts 9:1-20). He used to believe that Jesus was a dead impostor and heretic, but when he met the Risen One on the road to Damascus, he became a passionate missionary. And you know what? Everyone can meet Jesus and see, firsthand, his resurrection miracle. God often let people who are initially hostile to Jesus, meet him in an amazing vision.
I have a good friend who we can call Elijah. He is originally from an Arab country, and when he fled to Sweden his standard of living worsened to the point that he wanted to take his life. He prayed desperately: “God, if you exist, show yourself to me!” He had left Islam in his heart as a child, and now he just wanted to die.
When he went to sleep he saw himself sitting on someone’s lap, and he heard a voice that said, “I am Jesus. I am your God.” Elijah could not see His face because it was shining so much, but he saw the holes in his hands after the crucifixion (and this was before Elijah had read the Bible and knew that it says that Jesus got such wounds). Jesus told him to follow him. Elijah protested and said he barely knew who Jesus was. Then he saw a woman in the dream, and Jesus told him what the woman was called and said that she would tell Elijah more about who Jesus is.
In ten days, Elijah looked feverishly for the woman, and on the tenth day, he was close to giving up when he suddenly froze: he saw the same woman he had seen in his dream go in front of him. Instinctively, he called out the name Jesus had given him in the dream, and then she turned around and asked what he wanted. He told his dream to her, and she smiled and replied that she was the vicar of the village’s parish and she gladly told me more about him Jesus. Elijah became a passionate Christian who in just seven years has brought hundreds to faith in Jesus.
The Anglican priest Mark Stibbe writes in his book Prophetic Evangelism (pp. 94-95 ) about how he on Christmas eve 1980 suddenly woke up at 00:54. He found himself awake without really knowing why he had stopped sleeping so abruptly. Suddenly the door to his bedroom flew up. Strangely, it stopped abruptly with a few centimeters in front of the closet that stood next to it. Mark was trying to figure out what was happening when something happened that would change his life. He writes:
“Into the room stepped a tall, white, radiant figure; over two feet long. I looked at his face but could not distinguish any facial features. The light was simply too strong for me to be able to see the special features. But I knew it was a face.
He stood in front of me a few seconds. I was not frightened at all. A hand stretched out to me. I heard the words , “Follow me.” (see Mark 2:14). Then the figure left me.
[…] As a result of what in my interpretation was a visit by the Lord Jesus, I decided that day to live the rest of my life totally dedicated to God and I began a process that led to that I was ordained a priest in the Church of England. “
Finally, I have an example from my own life of an encounter with Jesus. When I had just become a Christian eight years ago, I really wanted to know that God exists. I prayed that I would see God. It wasn’t something half-hearted but something that was burning in me. After a week or so began a remarkable period in my life. I discovered that whenever I closed my eyes I could see the face of Jesus as a negative in front of me, as if I looked at him with eyes open and then closed them. This went on for a year and a half. It didn’t matter what I actually had looked at with open eyes; when I closed them, I saw Jesus.
Whoever you are reading this , whether you believe in God or not – pray that you get to meet and see Jesus. He wants to give you eternal life, He wants you to rise from the dead with Him, and He lives and works today to confirm this.